Sunday, 28 September 2003
Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy makes a welcome return to the European Seniors Tour when he tees up in this week’s Tunisian Seniors Open at El Kantaoui Golf Club.

The former Ryder Cup player returns from his latest stint on the Champions Tour in the United States to face the strongest field ever assembled for this Championship.

Darcy has struggled to get starts on this year’s Champions Tour but that has not stopped him finishing tied second on two occasions at the MasterCard Classic and the Farmers Charity Classic. He has also finished runner-up on the European Seniors Tour at the Travis Perkins Senior Masters and would dearly love to end the season by winning for the first time since joining the Seniors ranks last August.

The Irishman will start out among the favourites in Tunisia but he will by no means have things all his own way against an impressive field that includes seven winners on this year’s European Seniors Tour, namely Jerry Bruner, Horacio Carbonetti, John Chillas, Terry Gale, Malcolm Gregson, Bill Longmuir, Mike Miller and Noel Ratcliffe.

England’s Carl Mason has chosen to take a week off after claiming the Seniors Tour’s Order of Merit title by winning last week’s Merseyside English Seniors Open at Hillside. Longmuir has also guaranteed second spot on the money list but the battle for third promises go right to the wire with Chillas a mere €564 ahead of Gale with two counting events left.

This is the third year in succession that the Tunisian Seniors Open has been staged over the impressive El Kantaoui course. On the first occasion, New Zealand’s Simon Owen won the 2001 title when he birdied the second hole of a play-off to defeat America’s Bob Lenzion. Last year, Ireland’s Denis O’Sullivan succeeded him after closing with a four under par 68 to finish two shots ahead of England’s John Morgan on 14 under par 202.

O’Sullivan has a double incentive for defending his title because he is still attempting to prolong an impressive run that has seen him become the only Seniors Tour Member to win in each of the last three seasons. The 55 year-old former Irish amateur champion won twice in both 2000 and 2001 and then kept that run going with his win at El Kantaoui 12 months ago.

This season, however, he is still awaiting his customary win, although he has finished second four times, including twice in the last fortnight. The first of those came when he tied with Mason, one shot behind Longmuir at the De Vere PGA Seniors Championship at De Vere Carden Park.

A month or so later he was part of the five-strong group that finished second, two shots behind Mike Miller at the Nigel Mansell Classic at Woodbury Park. Then, in both of the last two events, Mason proved to be his nemesis again, beating him by one hole in the final of The Daily Telegraph/Turismo Andaluz European Seniors Match Play Championship and then by one shot at the subsequent Merseyside Seniors Open.

“I’m proud that I hold the current record but am also well aware that I have to win soon if I am going to keep it going,” said O’Sullivan. “I am running out of chances. All I have got is this week and then next week at the Estoril Seniors Tour Championship. This might be the best chance I have got.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the Tunisian Seniors Open mark the debut of another former European Tour star, South Africa’s Jeff Hawkes, winner of the 1991 Canon European Masters-Swiss Open. Hawkes had hoped to make his debut at the recent Bovis Lend Lease European Senior Masters at Woburn but had to pull out at the last moment due to TV commitments.

Hawkes is latest of a growing number of former European Tour players to join the Seniors Tour this summer, following in the footsteps of Guiseppi Cali, David Chillas, Baldovino Dassu, Bill Longmuir, Carl Mason and Sam Torrance. Mark James, Gavin Levenson, Mark McNulty and Chris Moody also turn 50 before the end of the year and will be eligible to play on next year’s Tour.

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